October 3, 2011
Last Thursday afternoon I found myself with my son in my lap, the time going by, and no clue what to do.
Let me be clear: this is not unusual. As a mother I find myself in the position daily (half-daily? Hourly?) of being clueless. I cannot believe that it confuses me so. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent, college educated, modern woman of the world. How is it that my children constantly bring me to my wits’ end? (Obviously, my wits are not nearly as extensive as I thought.)
But back to Thursday. Thursday is soccer practice day, and for the second season in a row, my son has displayed clearly, constantly and with no doubt that he does not like to play soccer. He tried it when he was four. He hated it. It was hot, it was confusing, he whined the whole time. Ah, but he was four, my husband and I thought, he’ll like it when he’s older. Last year we gave it a rest and this year would have come and gone but a school chum was joining a team and they were a man down, so before Bodhi and I knew it, we were signed up as part of the Clone Troopers. (Somebody must be watching “Star Wars.” And somebody must be very confused …)
My husband Brad played soccer and loved it. I never did anything sporty until I randomly joined the Cross Country team in ninth grade and found I had legs quite suited to the sport. I loved distance running; still do, in part because of the solo nature of the endeavor. Yes, I was part of a team, but in the loosest sense of the word. Mostly, I was alone with my thoughts in the middle of the woods in Connecticut, hearing my breath, pushing myself. I rarely knew what my team mates were doing until we all had crossed the finish line.
Team sports scared me because God forbid somebody threw me a ball and I dropped it, or the bases were loaded and I struck out. Too much pressure, too many potentially scowling teammates. Brad loved that aspect of it – the passing, the planning, and the intuition that builds over time among players who are absolutely in synch.
So Brad wants Bodhi to like soccer. Not to excel – but just to enjoy it the way he did. The way we do, as parents, want our kids to somewhat understand our passions, even if they don’t share them.
Bodhi, for his part, is an extremely active, fit little six year old. The guy never stops running, riding his bike, swimming, jumping on the trampoline, climbing – the list goes on. Couch potato-ing is not his thing. He is coordinated, energetic, and loves feeling his capacity for movement in the world.
The point is, he is athletic in the ways that he enjoys.
The real point is, he knows what’s best for him.
Thursday I picked him up from a friend’s house, reminding him of soccer. “I hate soccer,” he mutters in the back seat. “Really, babe? Do you hate all team sports?” “I like baseball,” he offers. And he does – two seasons of baseball down, he just may have found his sport. And yet – isn’t it good to try new things too? And haven’t we made a commitment for this soccer season, such that quitting would let the other kids down? And isn’t it important to teach your kid that quitting is a bad thing to do?
On the other hand, it’s not like HE was passionate about signing up for soccer and then changed his mind. He always was lukewarm about it, and his present state of mind is absolutely consistent with that. Isn’t it important for me as a mom to be responsive to my child? To support and empathize with his point of view? To buck the trend of the Tiger Mom and let my son be the slacker that he is, strumming his guitar, naked, cross-legged in his room (his favorite activity.)
Basically what I’m asking is: WHAT KIND OF MOTHER AM I????
We pull up to the field. He says it’s too hot. (It is.) I ask the coach if he could change the plan such that we practice in the shade. (He does.) “Bodhi, they changed the plan for us, let’s reciprocate and work hard at practice.” No response.
We pull out his equipment. I have brought the wrong socks. Bodhi is extremely particular about socks, this is true. He will not wear these socks, therefore will not wear the shin guards, and therefore will not wear the cleats. “I’m wearing Crocs! I can’t practice!” he reports brightly.
The coach says there’s no rule forbidding him to play in Crocs, but he should be careful of kicks to the shins. Bodhi brilliantly takes this in, goes out to the field, and in 45 seconds comes crying and limping back to me. “I got kicked!” he wails.
Then an entry into I-never-thought-I’d-do-this-as-a-mother category. I say, “You’re okay!” and almost send him back out to the field. (What am I doing, I think. What Tiger Mother am I becoming?)
He asks if we can go. I say no, that if he can’t play we’re at least going to stay and cheer on his team. That’s when he settles into my lap and we spend the next 30 minutes quite pleasantly. We talk about the buildings that surround the park, we wonder which airport an airplane is headed for, we analyze the shape of the trees. Every so often I have a passing thought to push him back out unto the field, but honestly, it feels so good to not be fighting and to spend a sunny afternoon with my beloved son, that I let that passing thought pass right by.
With ten minutes left, his teammate Sam bounces over. “What’s wrong with Bodhi?” he asks for the umpteenth time. “Mom brought the wrong socks and I can’t wear my shin guards, “Bodhi mumbles as he picks a dandelion. “I have shin guards where you don’t need to wear socks!” Sam triumphantly reports. “I’ll get them!”
Bodhi rolls his eyes in my direction. I understand what he communicates: “Really, mom?” he doesn’t even need to verbalize, “are we really going to fight about these shin guards with ten minutes left to practice?”
I speak to him honestly. “Bodes. It’s really important to me and Daddy that you just try a little bit. There are ten more minutes to this practice. I’d like to see you try and support your teammates. We can have a longer discussion later about this soccer season. But for now, I want to see you try.”
He hauls himself to his feet as if he weighs 200 pounds (he weighs 40). Sam hands him the guards, which have Velcro that goes around the calf. I put them on my son. “OW!!!!” He screams in agony. “They hurt, mom! Really! I can’t wear them!!!!”
At this point we are creating a stir. The heat, the last hour and the endless fighting have taken their toll. “They do not!” I say. “Sam wears them!” (Why does this matter? I keep thinking. I DON’T CARE IF HE PLAYS SOCCER OR NOT. WHAT IS THIS FIGHT ABOUT?)
I take a breath. I take off the shin guards. “Bodhi. I would like you to play the last five minutes in your Crocs. You won’t get kicked if you’re careful. I need to see you try a little bit. And if you don’t…” what? WHAT? “If you don’t, you can’t go to the store tomorrow.”
Now this threat is completely unfair. The store trip was planned long before the soccer practice, and was never contingent on trying hard on the soccer field. But it was the only chip I had, so I used it. Desperate times …
He hauled himself to the field. I instinctively turned my back on him, anxious to free us both of the co-dependence of the last hour. The five minutes speedily went by, and the coach congratulated all the players on a good practice. The other boys had played for an hour, Bodhi for five minutes. But who’s counting.
He asked me to carry him to the car. I happily obliged. I secretly love the times when my little boy allows himself to be a little boy again, which is fewer and farther between. All of the fight of the last hour immediately dissipated as we chatted about music, types of cars and what we were going to eat for dinner. Later, I told Brad that I don’t know if I handled the situation particularly well or not. But maybe that’s because I honestly didn’t know what a “good mother” would’ve done in that situation. In the end, I tried to be a good mother by staying human and connected to my son. When the parenting heat is on, all the theories, books and advice goes out the window, and what we are left with is two individuals – one big, one little – trying to manage their way in the world. And sometimes that has to be enough.
What about you? As a parent or a child: what gets you heated?